As an intern at Third Wave, I have been working on a project that involves reading through all the end of year reports from our 2010 grant partners (reporting on their work throughout 2011). I am taking this opportunity to reflect on some of the innovative approaches of Third Wave grant partners, some of the challenges grant partners face head-on, and what makes Third Wave’s relationship to grant partners so unique and especially catalyzing.
First, let me give you snapshots of four groups that really jumped out at me (not because they are any more special than the other groups, but because their work resonated with me, personally):
St. James Infirmary is an organization providing services to sex workers in the San Francisco area. I was impressed with their commitment to providing high quality primary care, reproductive healthcare, gender transitioning, HIV/STI/TB/Hepatitis testing, STI treatments and vaccines, counseling, syringe access & disposal services, support groups & trainings, and especially with their effort to attack the stigma surrounding sex work. They launched a bold media campaign, “Someone You Know is a Sex Worker,” which ran on the sides of public buses. It showed San Francisco that sex workers are everyday people whose rights are human rights, and that sex workers do real work and deserve labor rights.
Brown Boi Project’s approach toward Gender Justice from a “masculine-of-center” position seems, to me, truly revolutionary: “We work for Gender Justice by re-envisioning the power imbalance between traditional notions of masculinity and femininity. We hold institutional systems, other masculine people, and ourselves accountable for its accompanying privileges. We draw on a gender inclusive framework that shapes non-oppressive masculinity rooted in honor, community, and empowerment of feminine identified people, especially women and girls.”(2010 report) In addition to shifting the conversation, they created a health guide, “Freeing Ourselves,” which has been presented in numerous venues and distributed across the country, as well as in Israel, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Canada, and the Ivory Coast. In an effort to cultivate this movement and draw upon the experiences of masculine-of-center young people, BBP provided leadership training to 46 young Brown Bois from all across the country in 2011.
Justice Now is a human rights organization striving for a world without prisons, and working to end gendered violence within the prison system. In particular, they are doing amazing work in collecting stories and testimonies to bring to light forced sterilization within prisons, and are linking this to historical patterns of eugenics in this country. I found the two interviews and other short pieces produced by Justice Now and uploaded to Vimeo to be very powerful. But I am equally impressed with the radically grassroots nature of their organization: their volunteers are all people in prison documenting abuse and organizing from within, and the majority of their board of directors is currently imprisoned or recently released.
Young Women’s Empowerment Project is run by and for girls (including trans girls!) who are involved in the street economy. They recently carried out a participatory action research project called “Girls Do What We Have to Do to Survive,” which found that girls and queer youth involved in the sex trade are systematically denied help from those institutions meant to serve and protect them (police, health services, social services, etc.). The research also found that this institutional violence towards street youth compounds their experiences of individual violence, wounding them even more. One of the outcomes of this research was the creation of a “Street Youth Bill of Rights,” which YWEP is pushing to have adopted by as many service providers as possible. Since, as YWEP also discovered, “resilience is the stepping stone to resistance”(2010 report), they are doing their best to take care of themselves. YWEP declares: “For young people in the sex trade in Chicago, this campaign is not solely about access to services but is about gaining the power and skills to be able to name and change the circumstances that define our lives. Social justice for girls and young women in the sex trade means having the power to make all of the decisions about our own bodies and lives all the time.”(2010 report)
These four groups, as well as the rest of Third Wave’s grant partners, are at the front lines of gender justice work. They are attacking structures of oppression and violence at their very base, fighting to bring about a systematic change. Next week I will explore some of the challenges Third Wave’s grant partners face in the course of this fight.